You may not realize it, but this past week was a special one for Star Trek. The last seven days marked the birthday of not one, but both, of the original series stars. WIlliam Shatner, who portrayed Captain Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock, both turned 83 this week -- Shatner on March 22 and Nimoy on March 26.
Seriously, how is this week not already a national geek holiday?
It's near impossible to overstate the importance of Shatner and Nimoy to geek culture. If there was a geek hall of fame, these two would be among the inaugural inductees. (Side note: why is there no geek hall of fame? Someone get on that!) As the captain and science officer of the first incarnation of Star Trek, television's first foray into space opera for adults, they were groundbreakers, blazing a trail for all who followed. Shatner's Kirk showed us that even geeks got laid (yes, he was a geek; you don't become a starship captain without being an uber nerd). Nimoy's Spock was essentially the platonic ideal of geekdom -- cool, logical and real fucking good at science.
The haters will say that neither man did much beyond those iconic roles, but that's hardly fair. Outside of the Trek franchise, Shatner had a nice run in TJ Hooker, a forgettable but pleasant-enough cop show that ran for five seasons in the '80s. He's also landed a couple of nice roles as a character actor in recent years, and hey, someone has to let you know what kind of sweet deals you can find with Priceline, right? Nimoy gave us the utterly lunatic "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," did a couple seasons of Mission Impossible in the '70s and managed a nice comeback on Fringe.
More important, those roles spanned a television series, an animated series, around a dozen movies, some video games and god knows how many convention appearances. That alone is more of a career than most working actors manage. Plus, the onscreen chemistry that drove all that also inspired the creation of the first erotic fan fic, so if you're someone who loves reading about the furtive couplings of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, you have these two to thank and/or blame. (Okay, really the people who wrote that fan fic are to thank/blame, but it was Kirk and Spock who inspired them, so...)
Take either of these men out of the mix, and there's a very good chance that Star Trek simply never gets beyond its first season, maybe not even beyond the pilot stage. The relationship they portrayed, which not coincidentally carried over to a real-life friendship, was the lynchpin of the show. Spock's cool detachment was the perfect foil to Kirk's swaggering charisma; Spock's staggering intellect the perfect complement to Kirk's bold, decisive leadership style. Without precisely the roles they portrayed, the show would have been unbalanced and lopsided. Shatner was the show's heart. Nimoy was its brains. Without both actors, it would have been a forgettable mess, instead of the landmark show that first pushed science fiction to the fringes of mainstream acceptance.
No Star Trek might well have meant no Star Wars, which would have meant no Alien, no Blade Runner, no...well, pick your favorite nerd franchise and there's a good chance it wouldn't exist. There are plenty of people responsible for Trek's success -- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention show creator Gene Roddenberry -- but as the most recognizable faces of the franchise, even to this day, Shatner and Nimoy deserve a special kind of thanks from geeks everywhere, and of every kind.
At 83 years old, with storied careers behind them, it's clear that both men have lived long and prospered. Still, I'm certain I'm not alone in wishing they both continue to do so for many years to come.
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Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.